One of the few alt-rock bands to break out back when rap-rock rude boys ran things, Brandon Boyd and Incubus looked like dolphin-hugging hippies next to their contemporaries. Boyd’s introspective, unthreatening demeanor and open-throated, blood-warm vocals helped Incubus forge a fan base that cut across gender lines, while his band’s textured ass-kicking inspired kids to smear their henna tattoos in the mosh pit.
But if the vitriolic A Crow Left of the Murder…-the band’s fifth album and their first since 2001’s double-platinum Morning View-is any indication, Boyd’s mellow has been seriously harshed. Lead track and first single “Megalomaniac” takes a bite out of an unnamed big-headed radio star. Over the tight, Nirvana-esque crunch of the chorus, Boyd growls, “You’re no Jesus / You’re no fucking Elvis.” Coming from a group whose last big hit swooned, “In this moment, I am happy, happy,” the song feels like a swan dive from the kiddie pool into the shark tank.
“Beware! Criminal” and “Pistola” grind salt into the same wounds. “Talk Shows on Mute” and “Made for TV Movie” find Boyd lobbing ho-hum criticism at violence and war. His rage is actually a welcome change of pace, but the music doesn’t give him many hooks to hang it on. Guitarist Mike Einziger’s chops are as solid as Boyd’s abs, but his prog/jazz instincts clash with the singer’s anger trip. Boyd clearly needs to thrash and burn, but instead of pounding choruses, Einziger gives him swirling guitar lines and heady solos. Songs that should be precision strikes meander through multiple movements instead. Suddenly, these longtime collaborators seem like a mismatch worthy of Blind Date.
When everyone in the band flips their manuals to the same page, though, Incubus can still blow the doors off your Volkswagen bus. Coming on the heels of two slow, schmaltzy rock ballads (“Southern Girl” and “Here in My Room”), the bass-driven album closer “Leech” feels like a lesson in the productive uses of outrage. Shaking off their chilled-out Cali cool for real, Boyd and company indulge in a team temper tantrum, forgetting about perfect solos or polished endings. And for a few fleeting seconds, there’s a whiff of real teen spirit in the air.